Thursday, March 28, 2019

EPCR Champions Cup: Knockouts

Europe Preview 3.30-3.31: Gallagher, Guinness and T14

All bets are off the European Competitions as a little speed bump in the professional club rugby road called the European Professional Club Rugby Champions and Challenge Tournaments are into their extra-time, knockout stages; and if your club is not included in that austere collection who will yet manifest the art of rugby this upcomer… mayhaps a golf weekend?

Champions Cup: Final Four Fixtures on the Champions Cup Calendar and if your mouth ain’t watering at the prospect of this quartet of contests you might need to rehydrate because these are la crème de la crème, the best of the best, highest upon high... in the Northern Hemisphere at any event.
And, five of eight quarterfinalists earn their daily bread in the Guinness Pro14 competition; and all host cities are capitals of their respective nations.

Saturday, 3.30:
               Edinburgh (23) v (21) Munster at Murrayfield, 6:45am MST: last meeting between the clubs this weekend’s homeboys got the hiding at Thomond Park, but that was more than five years ago; prior to that, Edinburgh won a brace, but that was in 2013; so, suffice to say that while these clubs have knowledge of one another, they’ve not experienced mano y mano in quite some time; doesn’t matter, because these are the knockouts and to have reached this stage is no mean feat; Edinburgh did it by surprising perennial knockouteers, Toulon and Montpellier, in their group - the Scots did the double on Toulon and Newcastle and split with Montpellier, which is a fair run everyone might say, and they’d be correct! Munster, on the other end, were in a more pool-of-deathier group than their opponents on Saturday and they doubled Gloucester, split with hot-hot, now-now, Castres, and won and drew with current English League leaders, Exeter Chiefs; now, lately in their respective groups in Guinness Pro14 play, Munster are right snapping the Glasgow hind for first, while Edinburgh, though they beat Leinster last outing, it was a more casual Leinster alignment one might think; and if you’re that one thinking, “No big deal, switching from league to tournament play as it’s all rugby, like riding a bike,” you are to be reminded that there are mountain bikes, touring bikes, city bikes… and sometimes, you get outside the bar you can’t even find your bike; and this might surprise you, but it may rain Saturday prior to kickoff in Scotland during spring, but it’ll be cold, too, so slicken the pitch, grippen the pill and bring your bumbershoot as this’ll surely be THE match in Scotia today;

               Saracens (28) v (19) Glasgow Warriors at Allianz Park, 9:30 am MST: this’ll be a tussle between clubs that know each other ever so well as they both flushed from pool 3; Saturday’s home team were pretty darned dominant through the group stage, undefeated with a better than a two converted try win-margin on average; Warriors were the second to last to qualify and, though they doubled Lyon and Cardiff in the group, Sarries beat them twice and when they realized who was to be their competition first round, the Sarries may very well have said, “Awesome!” any case, Saracens have not lost at home this season; Saracens last two losses have come on the trot and they were on Six Nations weekend when nearly half the Corsairs starting XV plays for Queen and Country; 61, overcast, no rain, no wind, but expect a lot of rugby in fine weather conditions this excellent tournament RugbyDay;

               Leinster (25) v (18) Ulster at Royal Dublin Society, 11:45am MST: this is the first of two intranational contests, and the Irish Provinces are well known one to the other as they’ve competed longer than any other on the Emerald Isle; from ten matches in the past five years, it’s 7-3-0 for Saturday’s hosts who’ve also well-taken the last two; bit o’ wind, no rain, and chilly in the high 40s for the initial kick; Leinster did break its lengthy win streak last week in loss, but they were resting a few for today’s clash, like Jonathan Sexton; Ulster are on a GPro14 run of five without loss, but they may not have sufficient impetus to surmount the many faceted offense that is their host on this RugbyDay night;

Sunday, 3.31:
               Racing 92 (26) v (21) Toulouse at La Défense Arena, 8:14am MST: merde! this, this is the Match-of-Weekend; it’s been so long since the visiting team has lost, one might think that perhaps they’ve forgotten how… 92 will be there to remind them in La Defénse on Sunday, one could wager on that, but one could lose, too! Toulouse are the Leinster of France and I don’t mean that they’re profound scholars, but they roster an abundance of qualified professionals at every position; Gil Galan locks down a formidable Toulousain pack when not working their engine room and when he is at second row, Jerome Kaino plays at 8; and travelers have Antonine Dupont serving up a threequarters line featuring NZ-native, Zach Holmes at 10, who distributes out to Tommie Ramos and Max Medard when he’s not knocking numbers true the sticks or grounding himself; Racing have counted better than 40 points per match their last three; Finn Russell is one of the best in world with the wee boots over and into space and 92 closers Teddy Thomas, Juan Imhoff and Simon Zebo are three of the best in the business at the finishing business; there’ll not be a better match in France this day.

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